Thursday, July 7, 2011

Love Wins by Rob Bell

Where I got the book: from the library.

I'm going to try to keep away from discussing the theological points in this book, mostly because I barely know what I'm talking about. Love Wins has been making waves in some sections of the Christian community because of Bell's notion (some say heretical) that there is no such thing as a literal Hell. I prefer to see this book not as an attempt to preach a new truth, but as asking questions there's no harm debating. Bell says at the outset that he's entitled to his opinion, and I'd back him up on that.

I enjoyed reading this book. It's an easy read,
although Bell's habit
of making points
by using lots
and lots
of short lines

can be a little irritating at times, but it sure makes the pages zip by. Bell makes some really interesting points that are worth considering, calling, for example, for more action here on earth to make the world a better place. I can't really fault that.

On the whole, I'd call this wishful-thinking theology; if you've read the Bible enough times, you'll know that Bell's claims just don't really line up with all the uncomfortable stuff that's in there. It's a shame, because Bell's version of Christianity would pretty much reconcile the rest of the world to the Christian religion, and wipe out the you're-going-to-Hell-I'm-not attitude adopted by all too many believers. Humility, anyone?

Anyway, NOT getting into the theology, this is a nicely-written addition to some debates that have been going on for the last two thousand years. Nothing to get overly excited about, in my opinion, but I'm glad I read it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Literary Fiction
Harper Perennial, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-166148-8
Source: review copy provided by publisher (this in no way affected my opinion of the material)

It isn't often that literary fiction can sweep me away so briskly. So completely. Transport me from my reading chair, from the ordinary detail of my ordinary life, into another place and time--as if I was really there. Simon Van Booy's debut novel, Everything Beautiful Began After, did just that. And more.

The prologue relays the thoughts of an unnamed little girl who is remembering the story she'd been told of how her parents met, how they fell in love, and in wondering about this, she recognizes that there was a world that lived before her time and her parents were in it. There was a world that spun before her parents met, even. And that is the story that unfolds for us--the love that existed before the love that brought her into the world.

We don't know exactly how this little girl relates to the characters until the very end, though. Which personally I thought was brilliant. After reading the final page, I went back and reread the prologue, and it pretty much rendered me speechless. I had to give myself a few days before I could compose a review without it looking like a bunch of gibberish.

This is one of the most powerful stories I've ever read.

It begins by following three people who all happen to be in Athens, Greece at the same time, but none of them are Greek. Rebecca is a French artist. George is an American linguist. Henry is a British archeologist. How they all become inextricably tangled with each other in friendships and romance is fascinating. There is laughter, heartache, and adventure.

Then a major earthquake hits Athens, reducing large portions of it to rubble, and all three of their lives are permanently changed. What they do from that point on is where the real gut-wrenching emotion of the story takes place. Life is questioned. Love is shattered. Death is illuminated. Some of my favorite lines in the novel are reflections on life, love, or death (or any combination of those), such as this one:

But the dead don't come back to life. They sit frozen in our minds, finally free, capable of everything and nothing in a paradise where they can do no wrong.

Part of what made this novel abundantly swoon-worthy for me was the use of language. The poetic prose. But this didn't slow things down. The pacing was kept at a good, energetic clip with concise writing and short scenes. Seem contradictory? Read it and you'll see what I mean. I've never read such a snappy yet flowing style before. It's genius.

Everything Beautiful Began After is a strong contender for my "Best Read of 2011" in the adult fiction category. I highly recommend it for everyone, but especially for those who are reluctant to read literary fiction as anything more than a sleep aid. This story did just the opposite for me. Once I started it, I couldn't put it down, even if it meant reading into the wee hours of the morning. 5 of 5 stars.


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"Love Is Like Life But Longer", short film written by Simon Van Booy, directed by Poppy de Villeneuve

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel

A quick investigation of Jean M. Auel tells me that she began publishing her Earth's Children series in 1980, and I must have been introduced to the series in about 1985 when The Mammoth Hunters was published. So my impression that I've been reading this series since the dawn of time has some foundation.

The Land of Painted Caves is the sixth and, apparently, the final book in the series. For those of you who don't know, these novels are set in the Ice Age and centered around Ayla, who is orphaned at an early age, lives with Neanderthals who call themselves the Clan, is banished, lives on her own and tames various animals, meets hunka hunka burnin' love Jondalar and returns with him (and some horses and a wolf) to his own people, the Zelandonii.

Having worked through the last two books, I was already beginning to tire of this particular epic, but I'm loyal and wanted to see how the whole thing ended.

I am SO disappointed.

For one thing, have I just grown out of this kind of novel, or did these books always read like an animated textbook? It is pretty interesting to learn about how Ice Age people may have lived, but the author is way too evident in this book, stopping the action every so often to give us a little lecture so that you end up feeling the characters are those models in a museum diorama, spears brandished and hair all over the place.

Then there's the repetition. Seriously. EVERY time someone new meets Ayla (and there is a cast of thousands, most of whose names confusingly begin with J) they HAVE to be awed by the tame horses, scared of the wolf and aware of Ayla's strange accent. And I was starting to yell every time the Song Of The Great Earth Mother was sung.

Oh Yes, The Capitals. They Abound. The novel is larded with titles, the one that really got to me being She Who Is First Among Those Who Serve The Great Earth Mother, and its many variations. This 700+ page chunkster is ponderous enough without slowing things down by putting Capital Letters on almost every line.

And the whole Zelandonii thing is like some vast New Age commune who take their religion with deadly seriousness. I could never have imagined that sex rites, orgies and drug-taking could seem like so little fun or be surrounded by so many rules and rituals. I'm sure it's quite accurate from a research viewpoint, but hoo boy, I think I'd rather take today's stresses and idiocies over this depiction of a natural idyll.

And I could go on. And I'm really not trying to be unkind to Auel, who has obviously taken huge pains to research and write these books. As I said, I've read my way through the series and, taken as a whole, find it memorable. It's been hugely successful and Auel has legions of fans (don't shoot! Please!)

But what really disappointed me was the ending. No spoilers, but there were so many interesting directions Auel's epic plotlines could have gone, and yet I feel that the whole thing sort of fizzled out, as though she, too, had had quite enough of the Zelandonii (who remind me, bizarrely, of the Federation in Star Trek. Perhaps this is the effect of trying to imagine a simpler world.)

I guess I was looking for a bang (no pun intended, and while we're on that subject the honeymoon is definitely over) at the end - it came, in a sense, as a discovery/observation that would profoundly shake the Zelandonii's worldview, but even that could have been more fully explored in the plot. There's an interesting parallel to the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden there, and I'd like to have seen it taken farther. If this had been my book, I'd have cut out all the middle bit about the caves (endless descriptions of cave paintings and lots of repetition of That Song) and finished the series off with a bit more brio rather than repeating a prior plotline.

As a writer, I found myself wondering - would I take on a series that would take me 30 years to finish? I love to read series, but I think it's better for all concerned if the books are written over a shorter period, even if that means the research has to be shallower. The problem of the research eventually dominating the story is all too evident here.